The Elephant in the Corner

Religion and Politics – anything for a quiet life

Let’s get this party started! – Part 1: The Labour Party

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In my last post “Who Pays the Piper?“, I indicated that political party funding would be where the real story of this election’s aftermath can be found, and said that somebody should take a closer look. Naturally, almost nobody wants to – certainly not my MP Humfrey Malins, who has never breathed a word on the subject in our long exchanges of emails. Not even when explicitly invited to do so.

Naturally, the mainstream media know their master’s voice, and also keep well away from the subject. As far as the general public is concerned, party funding is kept under wraps behind a wall of silence – which is pretty ironic considering that everything everyone needs to know is actually already in the public domain. Yes that’s right, folks, you can Google for it if need be. Even a professional journalist could find it – but of course they know their editors won’t publish anything they find, so that’s that.

Or is it? I think not. Let’s take a closer look at the finances of the Labour Party for starters. You may have heard Labour’s next big idea – that the banks should provide “a basic bank account” for everyone in Britain. Those of you with longer memories may recall that this socialistic holy grail wiped out the profitability of the Post Office back in the 1990’s. Millions were spent on (yet another) government-backed IT system that never saw the light of day.

This time round, the idea may well have some prominent backing. Why do I think so? Well, why else would the Co-Operative Bank plc have provided yet another £2 million credit facility to the Labour Party on 28th September 2009 at Base + 3%, to be repaid (or at least “reviewed”) on 31st October 2010? This facility appears to be entirely separate from the “Long standing” £2,610,000 credit facility at Base rate + 2% which is “reviewed” each June and December. Let’s face it, that sort of money can get one an awful lot of (behind the scenes) access – with or without the help of Stephen (“Taxi!”) Byers.

But the ones that really bother me are the names we hear of rather less. For instance, Unity Bank has a “long standing” credit facility of £1,540,000 available to Labour at “Unity rate + 2%”. Who or what is this bank? What does it (or perhaps more precisely, its directors) get in return for this kind of largesse? I’m guessing that a rocket salad with Alastair Darling doesn’t quite cover it.

And then there are the notable individuals. I have no problem at all with individuals donating their own money to causes they believe in – but I get a little jumpy about them offering large, open-ended loans, especially of the interest-free kind. If party supporters don’t want money in return for their loan, what do they want? If they don’t want anything, why not just make a donation and have done with it? And what about people who might be using proxies to make party donations (as suggested by the repeated £30,000 loans via from former Labour Party apparatchik Margaret McDonagh)?

Take for instance Dr. Chai Patel CBE. On 20th July 2005, Dr. Patel loaned £1.5 million to the Labour Party, interest free until 31st July 2010 and at 6.5% per annum thereafter. The loan is due to be reviewed on 30th September 2015, and let’s not forget that 5 years interest free is not to be sniffed at in any circumstances (especially when interest rates were higher than they are today). What kind of influence might this loan have obtained for Dr. Patel between 2005 and 2010? The short answer is that it very nearly got Dr. Patel into the House of Lords… before landing him in all sorts of hot water. You can read all about it here

You might respond that Dr. Patel’s cause is politically dead in the water. But can the same be said for the directors of Teescraft Engineering Limited? The company lent the Labour Party £20,000 interest free indefinitely on 31st July 2008. Something tells me we haven’t heard the last of either the company or its directors, and I will return to this subject in due course. Next time we’ll be looking at Conservative Party finances, but for now, let me leave you with a follow-on from last time’s closing statement.

When he who holds the gold makes the rules, those with rule-backed guns have two choices. They can either grab the gold and write their own rules, or carry out their orders. Either way, the general public have three choices: submit, resist or leave. You might call that democracy. I couldn’t possibly comment.

Written by salternlight

March 23, 2010 at 6:47 pm

Who Pays the Piper?

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As our mass media begin to fill to overflowing with pre-election puff pieces about the Dear Leaders and their wives, they will naturally begin to ask what most people are taught to think of as the important questions about the next General Election: Which party will win the most seats? Who will become the next Prime Minister? What percentage of the electorate will bother to vote this time? And so on.

In 2010, with the real economy mired in recession, rising unemployment, and rising discontent among public sector workers in particular, most of these questions have hardly mattered less. If we want to identify the real winners of the next General Election, we need detailed answers to two questions the mass media and the politicians usually avoid like the plague:

  1. Who is bankrolling the major political parties?
  2. And what do they expect in return?

It is a criminal offence for politicians to try to bribe voters directly (or vice versa), and all of the main political parties have an ageing, shrinking membership base. As a result, it’s getting harder and harder for the parties to

  • justify taxpayer funding for themselves in lieu of party donations and membership fees
  • “rally the troops” for the next ritual marathon of door-knocking, leaflet delivery and all the rest of the actual grass-roots level donkey work.

But none of this will stop the main parties spending millions of pounds on national level, top-down, multi-media election campaigns. So who’s going to pay for it? And what will they expect in return? In former years, the parties have looked to the occasional rich businessman (such as Geoffrey Robinson or Lord Ashcroft), and a few politically connected big businesses. It looks as if Lord Ashcroft is going to retire from the fray in the next few months because of the controversy surrounding his UK tax status, and Geoffrey Robinson has long since fallen out of favour in “New” Labour circles – but at least each of them could claim they were British voters and British taxpayers.

Big businesses may pay tax here, but they’ve no right to vote because we all know that corporations aren’t persons in the same sense as human beings. It would be revealing to see the value of the public service contracts (and legislative clout) these corporate “sponsors” gain compared to the size of their tax bills and their political donations.

It’s time we were told, and it’s long past time to ban corporate donations to political parties while simultaneously forbidding any taxpayer subsidies for political parties here in the UK – and we must ensure that both measures stand or fall together. If we the electorate don’t force the issue of party funding onto the agenda and get it fixed soon, we will have to make even further allowances for an important political law:

All government is representative government, the only question is whose interests it really represents.

Written by salternlight

March 19, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Reclaiming the Lexicon

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In his very readable and informative book on “Cultural Revolution and Culture Wars”, Dr. Sean Gabb offers a helpful survey of the work of Antonio Gramsci (1891-1937), the man who pioneered Cultural Marxism. Gramsci (and more particularly his followers) concluded that Marx was right about the destination of human society, but that it would be easier and quicker to get there by engaging in “culture struggle” rather than “class struggle” as traditionally understood by the Marxists.

“Culture struggle” entails using the levers of power to undermine the cohesion of a dominant culture in any given country, and especially to try to make traditional manifestations of that culture not merely illegal in the eyes of the law but also socially unacceptable. The latter is essential in order to deter political opponents from merely reversing the programme if and when they resume power within a multi-party democratic context.

One of the key ways to ensure that something becomes culturally unacceptable is to use the law, the courts and the mass media to either subvert the meaning of a given word or phrase or to make it socially unacceptable to say. A clear and double-edged example of the latter may be seen in the fact that it is now more socially acceptable to use sexually explicit profanity in the mass media and in public than it is for white people to use what newspapers now call “the n-word” about black people.

On the one hand, the right to free speech is used to ridicule and undermine the culturally dominant, traditional desire for courtesy, creativity and precision in public discourse. While sexual profanity is inevitably precise in a sexual sense, its use in non-sexual contexts often masks what exactly the subject finds so objectionable or vexing about the object of the description.

On the other hand, the virtual banishment of colour or culture-based pejoratives from mixed-race (or even all-white) public contexts is unmistakably an assault on the freedom of speech so lauded with regard to sexual profanity. And lest we forget, the ban has both legal teeth in the form of legislation against “incitement to racial hatred”, and social teeth in terms of the professional and personal consequences for those brave or foolhardy enough to challenge the ethnic taboo head-on.

But what about the subversion of established words? If anything, this is even more dangerous than mere criminalization or ostracism, and in the rest of this post, I’d like to look at one of the most serious casualties in the Gramscian culture struggle: the word “democracy”. In terms of foreign policy, democracy has now been well and truly absorbed into the wonderland of Lewis Carroll’s Humpty-Dumpty. In the world of international relations, democracy currently means whatever the United States Government of the day and its political supporters want it to mean. As long as some sort of charade involving elections is eventually carried out, the most destructive actions imaginable are sanctified with the anointing oil of “democracy”.

Lest we forget, it’s time for a brief primer on the word “democracy”. It’s a compound word from two Greek words and literally means “people-rule”. One of the reasons why the study of ancient cultures is now firmly discouraged in our state education system is that even a failing classicist soon learns “democracy” was in fact a widely feared and distrusted form of government. Aristotle, for instance, noted in “The Politics” that democracy was normally a precursor via mob rule to tyranny, and that the first sign the transition was underway was the persecution of the rich.

This might sound strange until we remember that this is exactly what happened in both ancient Athens and Weimar Germany. Granted, in Weimar Germany “the rich” were given an ethnic label to wear: they were called “Jews”. But in each case, the pattern was the same. Follow a dictator, and let him dispossess the rich of their wealth for the good of the people. Interestingly, both contexts were played out amidst ruinously expensive wars, and in each case the result was a national disaster. War, of course, is the ideal context for governments to indulge in such wasteful and murderous behaviour. “National security” has always been seen as a political passe-partout, provided that enough people can be convinced the emergency exists. Goering pointed out as much from the dock at Nuremburg.

But wouldn’t you think, after repeated and bloody failures in a variety of contexts, that the “war socialists” would by now be thoroughly discredited? Well, they probably would be, except for one small detail. Every time they’ve been discredited in the past, they’ve simply changed labels. In the USA, the Trotskyite-sympathizing Straussians of yesteryear became the neo-conservative movement of today. In western Europe, the German National Socialists became business leaders and civil servants, eventually helping to create the European Economic Community.

So, how can we respond when the words we’ve used to distance ourselves from our opponents are being appropriated by them? Look out for a modest proposal concerning the word “democracy” in the next post. I look forward to the pleasure of your company there.

Written by salternlight

January 20, 2010 at 8:29 pm

John Major’s Next Great Idea…

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Have you ever wondered what happens to ex-Prime Ministers? I ask not because I’m trying to do some of Gordon Brown’s important work for him, but rather because, in a glaring absence of mainstream media publicity, Sir John Major will appear before the rather bland-sounding Public Administration Select Committee tomorrow (Tuesday 10th November) to share his next great idea.

According to a Press release dated last Friday, Sir John called earlier in the year for the expansion of government in the United Kingdom to be met by the appointment of a “small number” of Ministers of State who would hold seats neither in the Lords nor in the Commons. This, says Sir John, should be accompanied by a reduction in the overall number of ministers.

In case you’re wondering how this would be arithmetically possible, here comes the twist – the Committee is going to consider “the increasing size of government and the role of unpaid ministers”. So presumably, the man who brought us the cones hot line is now proposing that paid Government ministers with Parliamentary seats should be replaced with unpaid ones who, as noted earlier, hold no Parliamentary seat at all.

If accepted, John Major’s latest proposal would represent a further erosion of (what’s left of) Parliamentary sovereignty from within. It would also extend the hold over government policy formulation by Big Business, which would presumably be delighted to sponsor or supply “unpaid” Government Ministers given half a chance.

So how are we to trim the public purse in these troubled times? Like it or not, the only way to maintain Parliamentary sovereignty while ensuring that Ministers are not overloaded with taxpayer-funded “to do” lists is to shrink both the size and scope of government. We need fewer ministers and quangos to perform fewer roles. We need, among other things, real privatizations that amount to more than just granting taxpayer-funded regional monopolies to favoured big businesses (see rail privatization for a great example of how not to privatize).

Let’s hope that Parliament is neither too servile nor too stupid to be taken in by this latest ruse from Sir John, who was Chairman of the European arm of the multi-billion dollar Carlyle investment group from 2002 to 2005. Carlyle is a Washington DC-based private equity firm with sizable stakes in many pies… including the British arms industry.

I wonder if Sir John might have anyone in mind to fill his proposed vacancy for an unpaid, unelected Government minister. Surely, modesty forbids…

Copyright 2009 by Golden Siesta Limited. All rights reserved.

Written by salternlight

November 9, 2009 at 1:11 pm

David Cameron’s EU Pledge Made Simple

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“I solemnly promise to close the stable door after the horse has bolted and provided that feckless groom Brown is fired first. Furthermore, a new lock will be fitted to the stable door to make sure this can’t happen again. Oh, but please don’t talk about bringing the horse back.

We’ll try and get a smaller one instead, and I promise to look after it very carefully if we do. And please don’t mention those unrealistic fantasists who want to contest the Compulsory Purchase Order on what used to be our stable.

Our trade agreement to establish a Single Stable Market has already become a United Stables of Europe. I’m sorry, but there’s really nothing I can do about that. Which means there’s nothing you can do about it either – except trust me… please… now, where did I put that shovel? Could you lend me a hand?”

Written by salternlight

November 6, 2009 at 2:09 pm

The Power and Value of Saying “No”

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Why is our so-called democracy in such a mess? Consider this recent contribution on the matter from my local MP Humfrey Malins on November 3rd 2009:

“As the years have gone by, I have wondered more and more what the real duties of a Member of Parliament are. Today, they seem to be to attend to e-mails every five seconds and to respond on diverse subjects to constituents on matters about which I know very little. Our real duty, which is to scrutinise legislation—to look at it line by line—seems no longer to be important or the part of our lives that it should be.

I remember, in the days when I was in Committees upstairs, time after time the habit crept in of putting in the knives and the guillotine motions, which meant that whole chunks of Bills that I was taking through Standing Committees were never debated, neither in Committee nor in this House. That is a tragedy.

We all need to ask ourselves what is the role of a Member of Parliament now and what it will be over the next 10 years. Will it simply be instantly to react to a news story or can we please get back to the days when we examined legislation line by line and made our own arguments and amendments? The truth of the matter is that if I have an amendment or argument I want to make it, and I want the views of all hon. Members to be heard. If I lose the argument by a vote or because I have made it badly, that is that, but at least I have made it. Day after day, the trend continues that the opportunities for Members of this House properly to do the job for which they were elected, in my judgment, are gradually disappearing.”

I couldn’t agree more in many respects, but with the best will in the world I can’t help wondering to what extent Mr. Malins, his colleagues and several generations of his predecessors in Parliament have brought the current crisis of legitimacy upon themselves.

One of the subjects on which Mr. Malins professes ignorance is economics. Perhaps I shouldn’t blame him unduly for that, but I can’t help asking a couple of simple questions either. I address them not only to Mr. Malins, but to all current MP’s and Prospective Parliamentary Candidates:

  1. If an MP doesn’t understand the likely consequences of spending billions of pounds of other people’s money, wouldn’t it be best to either find out or at least abstain from voting for the Bill?
  2. I’ve been told repeatedly by many different people over the years that I should never sign a contract without reading and understanding it in full beforehand. Why do so many MP’s presume that Parliamentary Bills, which bind them and 60 million others once enacted, should be exempt from this general rule?

The best short answer I can find to these questions is that we are all trying to raise and be followers rather than leaders. Followers, by nature, are expected to hear the word of command, say “Yes” and do what they’re told. Leaders, by contrast, are expected to listen to the advice, instructions, requests, pleas, threats and offers cast their way by others, weigh up as much pertinent evidence as they can lay their hands on… and then decide for themselves.

The biggest single difference between a leader and a follower is that a real leader can and does say “No”, even if it means treading that path alone. In human terms, the true leader begins by learning to lead himself. Only then will he be ready to lead others. The ability and willingness to say “No” while being mindful of the moral and practical consequences of doing so, is always and everywhere the mark of a free human being, however misguided or flawed the reasoning behind the decision may be.

The Jesus who forbade his followers from swearing oaths told them rather to speak the truth in a decisive and straightforward manner: “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’, ‘No'” (Matthew 5:37). It’s one thing to teach our children obedience as a corrective for the stubborn, immature wilfulness that we can all display at our worst; but in teaching our children to let their “Yes” be “Yes”, let’s not forget the liberating power and value of teaching them that sometimes it’s entirely right for us to say “No” – regardless of who we’re speaking to. “Even God?!” I hear you ask. Well, take a look at Exodus 32:7-14 and see what you think.

So what of Mr. Malins, who will be standing down at the next election? Enoch Powell is supposed to have said that every political career ends in failure. I think Mr. Malins is currently tempted to agree with this. But at least he appears to have developed some understanding as to why. I suppose that is success of a sort… and both you and he may be interested to know that I have plans in hand to address Parliament’s sorry record in the area of legislative scrutiny.

Written by salternlight

November 5, 2009 at 12:48 pm

British Libertarianism: Planning To Fail?

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According to the old saying, those who fail to plan, plan to fail, and this is perhaps more true of British libertarians today than at any previous dark point during the Blair-Brown years. Granted that the 2009 Libertarian Alliance Conference did not disappoint, and that the UK Libertarian Party is finally contemplating how to get from statist here to libertarian there, but what may at first appear to be delegates’ brightest hope could end up becoming a terrible example of blowback.

The muted hope of many delegates appeared to be roughly as follows: the British State is, once again, on the verge of financial disaster, and this time the International Monetary Fund won’t be able to afford to rescue it from its own folly. So perhaps the State will finally be forced to surrender significant areas of British political, social and commercial life back to the free market. Delegates tempted to engage in such reasoning, perhaps especially by Dr. Richard Wellings’ illuminating presentation on the state of the UK Treasury, should resist the temptation to count their chickens for a number of different reasons.

The first, and perhaps most easily demonstrated from history, is that free marketeers have a habit of underestimating the resilience of an economically flawed State. Few twentieth century Western economists predicted the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union, but far fewer still anticipated that it might last seventy years or so before it finally expired due to an accumulation of political and economic misjudgments. The truth is that ordinary people are capable of making incredible sacrifices to try to prop up a failed state if (i) they honestly believe that their very survival is at stake in the process and (ii) they’ve been raised to think and expect to act no differently.

The second reason for urging caution is that, short of a complete meltdown, the British State will dictate what, when, how and to whom it will privatize various areas of British life. All the major British political parties arguably need money more than they need votes, and given the ever more blatant penchant for currying favour with large corporate entities rather than mere voters, we should expect a subsidized corporatist hand back rather a genuine privatization. The so-called privatization of the British railway network is a very good example. Naturally, if the whole thing turns into a fiasco, British taxpayers will presumably be clobbered yet again for another subsidy while the Government of the day and its allies calmly blame “the market” for the ensuing mess.

The third and final reason I will give here relates to a serious misapprehension of the nature of Western democratic politics by many British (and other) libertarians. To put it bluntly, voters are often too busy, lazy or ignorant to bother with the content of party manifestos and election pledges (which aren’t legally binding anyway). So the voters go with their “gut instinct”… after all, that always seems to be the best approach for catching criminals on TV, so why shouldn’t it help the average voter to identify the right (or perhaps the least wrong) politician for the job?

The result is that the almost stereotypically rationally driven libertarian often fails to engage with the mass of emotionally driven voters, and this would be perhaps the worst time in 30 years for British libertarians to make such a mistake (again!). Why? Partly because maybe… just maybe the classical liberal ideal of limited governments and free markets is about to be framed for the coming disaster, but mostly because even if British libertarians achieve their dream of an expanded free market, they aren’t likely to keep it in the longer term as matters stand.

Emotionally driven democratic voters see the economy roughly as follows:

Good times = plenty of money + big government spending.

Bad times = lack of money + reduced government spending.

As long as the mass of voters sees the current crisis in this fashion, it will inevitably view any sell-off as a concession extorted by greedy big businesses from the cash-starved, sometimes incompetent but always better-intentioned hand of the State. Why would an electorate thus conditioned by state education and state supervised media not seek to renationalize various assets as soon as practicable?

My hope is that British libertarians will learn a number of important lessons from the foregoing paragraphs before it’s too late. First of all, implementation of libertarian ideals even if full and unconditional is not a substitute for mass dissemination of libertarian ideas. There is little point becoming more free from State interference if we can’t stay that way. Secondly, British (and other) libertarians have to fight and win both an intellectual and an emotional “battle of ideas” if they want to live in peace in a less governed society. Finally, libertarians everywhere need to learn to more carefully assess their opponents’ strengths as well as their weaknesses, while never forgetting that in the nature of political and social struggle, the current opponent could easily become the greatest ally in the next conflict. Without that last caveat, how will libertarianism ever gain even mass acquiescence, let alone a mass following?

Copyright 2009 Golden Siesta Limited. All rights reserved.